The Roman Bridge

Photos finally added, sorry for the tardiness.

Die Römerbrücke – die natürlich keine ist. It is not a “Roman” bridge, simply because the Romans did not come to this area, at least they did not build something here. The very end of the Roman Empire, the limes Germanicus (Ger., Eng., there’s a map), consisted of the river Moenus from Seligenstadt to Miltenberg, then left the river and went South over land. Some scholars of the 19th century nursed the idea that the fortress here would be based on a Roman military installation, but there is no proof for this claim and modern archaeology dismisses this idea.

Roughly one kilometer from the centre of my village in North-Eastern direction the Römerbrücke stands. Here once run a trading road from Würzburg to Bamberg ; it was a part of the larger connection between the free, important & rich cities of the Reich Frankfurt am Main and Nürnberg, on a larger scale of the route from Paris to Prague. The road came up from the valley of the river Main & the city of  Würzburg and crossed the valley of a small creek called Haslach ; it climbed up from the muddy valley via the Roßsteige (horses’ steep) and then went over land to the Steigerwald, generally in Eastern direction.
This gradient was pretty steep, additional horses needed to be harnessed to the coaches, it must have been a drag.
The 18th century brought us new roads, standardised in a way, the new chaussee. The Herzog happily embraced this idea and built new roads in his dukedom : Adam Friedrich von Seinsheim (1708-1779) (Ger., Eng.) commissioned the bridge in 1764. In fact it is not a single bridge that was built, but a 220 meter long earthen dam (causeway ?) that includes a bridge construction spanning the Haslach and thus “flattens” the gradient of the commercially important trading route. It simply makes the whole thing more viable. The dam is up to eight meters high, the bridge itself nearly 19 meters broad, the road is four to five meters wide.
The German description is “einfeldrige Bruchsteinbogenbrücke” – sorry, I can not translate this.
The importance of these new chaussees, in German Kunststrassen, artificial roads, can not be rated highly enough. In fact it is the first time since the Romans that a kind of standardised road system is built on a European scale. These roads allow fast and reliable traffic for goods, persons, mail, and of course for the movement of troops. They demand and cause standardisation, because the “Chauseeordnung” describes what format and what weight cars and coaches can have that finally travel on them. These roads demand a lot of investment, not only in building and construction as in our bridge here, but also in maintainance – in regular distances Chaussehäuser were erected where the Chaussewärter, the keeper, was stationed. He had to take care of a certain stretch of the road, and sometimes had to collect the road-tax too.
The bridge, the whole construction, was finished after three years and was open for traffic in 1766. It was used only for three years : In 1769 the building was closed for traffic because the foundations settled in the muddy subfloor, the Haslach simply did not like that thing. Cracks opened & it was deemed to dangerous to have heavy coaches rolling over it.
The planning went on and in the following year the whole road was relocated & shifted from this place to the North (on the other bank of the Haslach-creek), it finally run through the next village – avoiding the steep gradient & the marshy area altogether. The bridge was not repaired, but in contrary used as stone quarry to build the new road. It became finally obsolete for long distant travel when in the middle of the 19th century the railway was built – to this day the line goes in some hundred meters distance. The coaches had finally served its times.
The bridge was of course still used locally, only in 1960 it was closed for pedestrians. There was a bit of argument over the decades between the local community and the Bavarian state. The village was always poor & in debts and did not want to carry the Baulast, the public easement (and the responsibility) for the disused construction. Finally the whole ensemble was put on the Denkmalliste, the list of landmarks, and today the community has to take care for maintainance & safety.
And why is it called a “Roman” bridge ? Two explanations are given in literature : One says it’s because the road finally leads up to the Römer (Ger., Eng.) in Frankfurt – ah bah, who cares for Frankfurt here anyway ? The other says that the whole thing looks so nice and romantic-ruinous in the moonlight, ach – so Roman, simply … ; …

Some pictures will follow tomorrow.


It’s the day after tomorrow – I think übermorgen is a wonderful word. So I am writing from the future …
Here are some pictures of the featured building. The first gives an impression of the whole thing. We stand on the Southern side of the dam and look in Eastern direction.


Standing on the Southern side of the dam looking in Eastern direction
Standing on the Southern side of the dam looking in Eastern direction


Turning around and going in Western direction there is finally a possibility to walk on the dam if only for a short stretch. Then they have planted a lot of dense & thorny bushes, small trees and high grass hinder the careless trespasser.


Standing on the dam looking in Easter direction. This is a second, smaller arch that is closed for any kind of traffic
Standing on the dam looking in Easter direction. This is a second, smaller arch that is closed for any kind of traffic


Looking from the Northern side in Easter direction. The whole construction was cut free from woods and brushes lately ; I have read in the local that some preservation measures are necessary.


Standing on the North side looking East
Standing on the North side looking East


And finally we are under the bridge.


Under the bridge. No Stonemason's mark, no coat of arms, no graffiti, no nothing - just stones. Very nice.
Under the bridge. No Stonemason’s mark, no coat of arms, no graffiti, no nothing – just stones. Very nice.


And one last view : This friendly little apple tree is a gift from the French twin village in the Calvados. It’s still a long way until we’ll have Franconian Calva.


Roman bridge and the promise of Franconian Calvados
Roman bridge and the promise of Franconian Calvados


Daht’s all.

14 thoughts on “The Roman Bridge

  1. I’ve always thought that the Rhein and the Donau were the limits of the Roman Empire but I see now it’s only partly true.

    Ah, bridges! They seem to have always been a problem. Montreal being located on an island in the middle of the St-Laurent river, the many bridges we have are always the main topic in almost every conversations.

    Very educative and entertaining post, mon cher. thanks a lot.

  2. What goes unnoticed very often is that the city of Trier was for some time the capital of the Western Roman Empire, not Rome. The land behind the limes belonged to tribes that were in some way connected to the Romans, mostly by treaties, contracts. They mostly worked as mercenaries.
    The rivers always were important, be it as frontiers, as live arteries, they can divide and connect. Some places here are founded around bridges, like Wuerzburg with the bridge over the Main, Bamberg with bridges over the Main and some other rivers, Regensburg with a very large and important bridge over the Donau – these are very important buildings and constructions – especially when one has to move over land by horse or foot.
    And still today : Melanie once mentioned that the (modern) bridge she has to cross every day is crumbling. I do not want to loose a friend just because some silly state is not able to maintain a bridge ! They are indicators in a way.

    I read your post, and did not know what to say, dear Jon. It is very touching.
    Maybe you are getting wise.

  3. Oh if I understand well, the land north of the Donau and east of the Rhine were more like buffer zones. Makes sense.

    Am I gettting wise or getting tired? Honestly, I can’t tell. ;)
    I noticed your suspension points… Thank you for reading.

  4. The land on the Roman side, inside the Empire, was called agri decumates. Some of the wild Celts or Germani were allowed to settle there. Those outside the limes always had a chance to move over the border or to define the relation with Rome. For these barbari it must have been a miracle when they understood finally in front of what they were standing. The Imperium had an incredible capability of assimilation. That’s why all these “kings”, “dukes” and whatnot wanted to hold a Roman title.
    Maybe you turn into a sleepy sage, Jon ?

    Norma ? Darling – what is the matter with you ?

  5. Looking forward to the photos.

    Toll ways and standardization of the roadways along the trade routes is an interesting development toward modern transportation. Do you know when such things became to be considered public works vs private? Similar to the Rhine River evolving into an international waterway vs sections controlled by local toll barons.

    In the US, the Interstate highway system is standardized nation-wide. However, the standards and maintenance of state and local roads vary greatly by state.

  6. I think the chaussees were too expensive for private investors von LX, and too important for military reasons too, so that these were built by the then state. At least here in Franconia, Northern Bavaria and adjacent regions it was always the ruler who built them – the bishop here, the bishop of Eichstätt, the duke of Bavaria – as far aas I recollect what I know about them. The free city of Rothenburg possessed a lot of land around the city walls, I think they built a chaussee too. The rulers would eventually rent out the duty of maintainence to someone who in turn would receive the right to collect road tax from the passengers / travellers / merchands. On the other hand the “Post” developed as a regular long distance means of transport for persons – they would only pay the passage and the “Postillion” would have to take care for anything else. All these forms of travel and transport are horse-based & needed a relais-station for changing horses.
    To end the rabbit-tun: The new artificial roads were always in possession of the state who commissioned and built them. It is possible that parts were managed by private people who in turn were allowed to cash in from the users of the road. But the initiative to built these things comes from the rulers. Started in the Netherlands I think, but France adopted it very fast – and what France does in the 18th century will be imitated by any dude on a throne East of the Rhine

    Ohhh Theremin !

  7. Sorry to kill your imagination James, but I’m neither. I do not ride horses, I never learned it : Marvellous animals, very strong and very high, I sat on one as child in a circus and it gently allowed me to sit on it while it trotted around the Manege – and that is all experience I have with horses. And I’m no Queen, just a run-of-the-mill-idiot, who likes three-piece-suites-he-can-not-afford. Thank you for the compliments about the photographs.

    I just went around the whole thing this midday. On the Northern side today is a large retention reservoir, then comes the railway line. In the 18th century, at least before the first railway was built, there was a large artificial pond of the adjacent “Gut”, a large farm. So the whole area always was marshy – they had good reasons to re-locate the whole road totally.
    Yep, past and future – the tree is planted in 2000, growing well and next year I will take care to collect some of its fruits, dear von LX. I have fond memories of Calvados, good stuff.

  8. PS: In her memoirs, Marlene Dietrich mentioned that when she was in Europe entertaining the troops during World War II she used to drink Calvados because they couldn’t get bubbly.

  9. Great lady, always in style, von LX. As I remember it is a dangerous drink, comes in different tastes and makes one’s head swell like nothing else, good for a terrible hangover.

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